Friday February 24th – Saturday February 25th | Dunedin 🇳🇿 – LAX 🇺🇸 – CANADA 🇨🇦 | a whole shit-tonne of kilometres 🚙✈️✈️💤🛏✈️✈️🍷🚙🍫 🙃
On our last day of the road trip I walked up the world’s steepest residential street: Baldwin Street. I’d already packed my hiking shoes and didn’t think it would be easy in my Birks so I did it barefoot – true kiwi style. Baldwin street has a slope of 19 degrees (we drove up a hill in Arthur’s Pass that was 16). In 1988 a guy named Iain Clark roller skated up it (yes I did say up. Crazy!)
After that we drove out to Signal Hill for a sweet view of the city then had lunch at Ratbags before Val dropped me off at the airport.
I left at 3pm, had a short internal flight to Auckland, a few hour layover there, departed at 11pm, survived a 12 hour overnighter to LA, another short layover, then finally made it in to Vancouver around 9:30pm Friday night (gained back time coming from Dunedin to Vancouver). Originally I was just going to crash in the airport until I remembered I’m not 18 anymore and a hundred bucks for a 6 hour sleep is more than worth it.
This morning I caught the red eye to Calgary and then on to Brandon. Our plane landed at the international departures terminal which is almost as far away as you can get from the domestic departures so myself and four other passengers had 15 minutes to book it over there while the plane waited on us. Someone was already in my seat so I got upgraded to 1A: preferred. Score! A glass of wine and a couple chapters of my book later we touched down in frigid Brandon. Mike took me for lunch and we picked up our groceries from Superstore – thank god for click and collect! Now I’m finally relaxing at home trying not to eat all the delicious chocolate I brought home!
I took seven flights (6 to travel, 1 for skydiving), two ferries and one train on this trip. We drove around 5000km in a tiny sky-blue Mazda Demio and visited so many places I’ve lost track. We saw glaciers, oceans, mountains and national parks. I crossed a couple things off the bucket list and added more than I removed. It was a whirlwind three weeks but it was awesome and I’m glad I took the time for the adventure.
We left Tekapo on Wednesday morning and made our way south. Around 75km before you reach Dunedin you’ll find the Moeraki Boulders. These are large, spherical rock concretions that were formed 60 million years ago. They’re pretty interesting to look at and definitely worth the stop. Some of them are up to 3 meters tall and estimated to weight several tonnes.
Don’t be fooled by the Dunedin city limits sign – you’ve still got half an hour before you actually reach the city! Have no fear, though, as you will pass the Evansdale Cheese Factory where you can stop for some tasty samples. Cheese in New Zealand is a thousand times better than Canadian cheese (sorry dairy farmers but the shelf cheese in the store is bland compared to that in NZ). Evansdale is a small factory that was started in 1977 making it the oldest artisan cheese maker in New Zealand.
We finally reached our hostel late afternoon, checked in then drove down to the Octagon (this is the high street/city centre area). Dunedin is a beautiful city with lots of history. It was named after Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, and is known as Little Edinburgh. It was New Zealand’s first city and can lay claim to many other “firsts” including: first telephone call made in New Zealand, first gas streetlight ever burnt, first medical and dental school in New Zealand as well as the first newspaper published in the country. There are a lot of really stunning old buildings in Dunedin ncluding St Joseph’s Cathedral, Otago Girls High School, Dunedin Railway Station and Larnach Castle. Full list of historic buildings here. There is also a statue of Robert Burns (Famous Scottish poet. He wrote Auld Lang Syne. You’re welcome) at the head of the Octagon. His nephew, Thomas Burns, was one of the original founders of Dunedin.
One of the things I miss most from Scotland is fish & chips. Not the crap they serve at North American seafood restaurants. The fresh-from-the-ocean, good old fashioned, chippy supper. I have been waiting all three weeks for a blue-cod supper and my time arrived. I checked out Trip Advisor and discovered that the best fish supper could be found at a restaurant called The Best Cafe. How fitting. It’s a short walk down Stuart Street near the Railway Station.
When we walked in I was instantly reminded of the old fish and chip shops we used to eat at in Scotland. The old-school decor, the deep-fryer smell and the plate of bread and butter brought immediately to your table. Val and I each ordered the two piece fish & chip dinner: one piece famous blue cod, one piece elephant fish (a type of shark). The elephant fish was a more firm white type and the blue cod was flaky. Both were good but I definitely would recommend the blue cod: it’s worth the money.
After supper we parked the car at the hostel and walked down to Speights Brewery. We literally walked down – everything is on a hill in Dunedin. The brewery tour started at 7pm and lasted around an hour. We learned about the history of beer, the brewery, how it was made then versus how it is made now, and finished off the tour with an unlimited sampling of their one cider and five on-tap beers. Hell yeah.
No matter how long Google maps tells you it will take to reach your destination, when in New Zealand you should add at least an extra half hour. For example it will calculate for you that place X is 160km and will take you 2 hours 10 minutes. You know that roads are different in New Zealand and that seems realistic so you figure 2.5 hours to be safe. Wrong. It will be closer to 3 hours especially if there’s roadworks and slow tourist traffic.
While we have never been late for anything yet (that’s surprising for those of you that know me!) we have definitely been pushing the limit. We arrived at Kahu Kayaks at 11:25am for an 11:30 guided sea venture. It was a stunning day in the Abel Tasman National Park: the weather really couldn’t have been better. Blue skies and a hot sun made for the perfect afternoon.
Our water taxi took us out to Watering Cove where we relaxed and then started our voyage at 1pm. There were ten of us, including our guide Tyler, in five double kayaks. We were suited up with a neoprene skirt to prevent water getting into the kayak and a life jacket to prevent drowning, obviously.
After a quick safety briefing we paddled towards Adele Island. A French explorer named it such because he thought it looked like his pregnant wife (I think he just had too many rums). It is predator free though they do still trap for any vermin that may decide to swim over. (Think rats. Those pricks are really good swimmers).
The island is designated as a bird sanctuary. Historically the sounds of bird calls on the island was almost deafening but over time the birds, defenceless due to their inability to fly, have been hunted to low levels by hungry predators. Even though there are less birds than the past, the ones that are there sing beautiful music. It is so peaceful on the sea and the melodic bird songs make it even more idyllic. The other noise you hear a LOT in New Zealand is the cicada. I don’t know what type of cicadas they are but if they’re periodic cicadas they spend most of their lives as underground as nymphs and after a decade or more they emerge in huge numbers
We made our way around the south side of the island to a fur seal colony. Fur seals used to be very abundant in New Zealand until they were over hunted and their numbers declined substantiallyfrom 2 million to 200,000. They became fully protected in 1978 and you are forbidden from going within 20 meters of a colony. Their numbers have increased substantially since then. Normally you can see a lot of the seals sunbathing on the rocks but Tyler told us that at this time of year the males are nowhere to be found (baby comes and bu-bye dadio!) and the females will go hunting for three days at a time before returning to feed their cubs. We did see a few babies frolicking playfully in the water and they were pretty cute.
For the remainder of the afternoon we slowly paddled back towards the main beach where we were picked up at 4pm. I can’t wait to go back there some day. The beaches and coves are only accessible by water or hiking trails. I would love to hike in and camp for a couple of days then kayak out. The company offers all sorts of tours and are willing to work with you to make whatever you like happen so they could drop the kayaks off at the beach for us and then take our backpacks back on the water taxi.
Since this is my last week in New Zealand we have to start making our way back down to Dunedin (I fly out of there Friday afternoon). We decided to drive all the way to Moana and camp at Lake Brunner Country Motel & Holiday Park for the night. We arrived around 10:30pm, pitched our tent and called it a night.
Tuesday February 21st | Moana 🏕 – Lake Tekapo ⛪️ | 625km
The second National Park we drove through was Arthur’s Pass. It was a very scenic drive and we had a great day to see it. We drove through the town of Springfield which had, you guessed it, a doughnut for a roadside attraction.
We arrived in Tekapo late afternoon. Wow. What a stunning place. After setting up our tent (yay for sun and finally being able to use it again!) we headed off to check out the Church of the Good Shepherd. Both Val and I assumed it was in the middle of nowhere but it is actually just on the shore of Lake Tekapo.
My Cook was the third and final National Park we visited. Unfortunately the visitor centre was closed when we got there but I think the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centrewould be a really neat place to cheat out sometime.
After supper (venison sausages and lamb sausages: venison won) we played cards until dark. Lake Tekapo is one of the best places for stargazing due to the very low light pollution in the area. The night sky was spectacular. It was a perfect ink blue pierced with so many different constellations. It was so cool to see stars in the Southern Hemisphere as they’re different to what we have at home. I couldn’t take any pictures as I’m not a photographer but here’s a cool shot of the Church (it’s not mine it’s from Fraser Gunn I believe: Astrophotography NZ)
Friday February 17th – Sunday February 19th | Palmerston North 🏉 – Porirua 🐮🐮🐸🐸🦁🦁 – Picton ⚓️ – Blenheim 🍷| … Km 🚙 + 90km 🛳
Palmerston North is home to the New Zealand Rugby Museum. We spent an hour here learning about the history of the game from the early 1800’s to present day. Charles Monro of Palmerston North is the man who brought rugby to New Zealand in 1870. You are welcomed by a statue of him outside the building.
The museum is set up so that each section represents a decade in the history of the sport. There’s lots of interesting information and artifacts in the museum including uniforms, literature and photographs. Did you know a pigs bladder was the first “ball” used?
“The Originals” refers to the New Zealand team that toured the Northern Hemisphere in 1905-06. They won 34 out of 35 games and set the standard that every All Black team has tried to emulate since.
We could’ve spent a lot longer here but decided to continue on to our ark for the night: Camp Elsdon in Porirua near Wellington. The most exciting stop on the way was a bird and wildlife park in Shannon called Owlcatraz. Unfortunately for us the rainy weather prevented any tours from taking place but we did get to see the stuffed and preserved head of Big Red, one of the worlds largest cattle beasts. At 1.83 metres tall Big Red tipped the scales at 2060kg which is apparently the equivalent of 18,162 quarter-pounder burgers.
Camp Elsdon is probably as close to an ark as we will get on this trip. It is a Christian youth camp that rents rooms and campsites to community groups and tourists. We booked here for two reasons. 1. we are cheap. 2. nowhere else in Wellington had any rooms available and we didn’t want to tent in the rain. We arrived around supper time and the place soon filled up with people who had missed the ferry to Picton (we think possibly due to an accident on the motorway). The group was a mixture of adults, children and babies and was very loud. Due to being a Christian facility, no alcohol was permitted on site so, obviously, we ventured off to find a bar.
Google maps suggested The Roundabout Bar which created a prime opportunity for Val to pull out another dad joke. I asked where where exactly it was and she replied “around about”. Jesus Christ. In all reality we did have to navigate six or seven roundabouts before reaching the bar which, you guessed it, was located right beside another one. Since we’d already eaten supper we ordered wine and dessert: because we’re on holiday and can do whatever we want to. I chose the rhubarb and apple crumble and a glass of Roaring Meg wine. The waitress brought an extra-full glass for me because she just finished the bottle right into it. Excellent.
There’s a really cool museum in Wellington called Te Papa. It’s free to visit and there are many different exhibits spread out over six floors including Māori history and culture, the flora and fauna of New Zealand and, my favourite, Blood, Earth and Fire: The Transformation of Aotearoa New Zealand.
I also found out that kiwifruit came from China and were originally called Chinese gooseberries. In 1959 they were renamed. One suggestion was “melonettes” but kiwifruit won. Those grown in New Zealand were branded as Zespri in 1996 to distinguish them from the same fruit produced elsewhere.
We killed time in Wellington until the ferry took us back to Picton that evening. Our hostel for Saturday night, Sequoia Lodge and Backpackers, was really neat. It was very clean with a large kitchen and common area and comfortable beds.
Sunday morning was relaxed as we slowly made our way down to Blenheim and our next accommodation: Spring Creek Holiday Park. The weather was perfect: beautiful blue skies, fluffy white clouds and a slight breeze to move the hot 25 degree air. After lunch we were picked up and escorted to the first winery in our afternoon tour arranged by Sounds Connection. For $69 each we got to visit five cellar doors and a chocolate boutique.
Makana Confections Chocolate Factory
In the Marlborough region, 80% of the wine produced is sauvignon blanc and 15% is pinot noir. There are 170 winery’s but only 35 tasting rooms. Despite the number of vineyards, winemakers can’t produce enough Sauvignon blanc to meet world demand. We were able to taste four or five different wines at each stop and it was a great way to spend an afternoon.
The winery with the most interesting name was Huia. It is named after the huia bird which, now extinct, was native to New Zealand. The male birds has short, strong bills perfect for boring into trees for insects and bugs. The female bird has long, slender beaks which were able to extract the food that the male found. Because of this unique reliance on one another the huia birds partnered for life.
The most beautiful location was Framingham. The garden has many beautiful rose bushes and arbors as well as some cute sayings painted on tiles throughout the walkway. It’s not surprise that this place is a favourite wedding venue.
The winery with the most expensive wine we tried was Nautilus Estate. The Four Barriques Pinot Noir is $75 a bottle due to the fact that only four barrels are made each year. It was good but a cheaper $20 bottle will suffice for me.
Whakarewarewa is the shortened name for the thermal village of Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao and means “The uprising of the war armies of Wahiao”. The village is located near Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand: 86% of the Māori population lives on the North Island.
The Māori language was never originally written but now Te Reo is recognized as an official language of New Zealand. The alphabet consists of only 13 letters, 5 vowels and 2 diagraphs (a diagraph is the combination of two letters to make one sound like when PH = F in English). Knowing this helps to pronounce Whakarewarewa: fak-a-ray-wa-ray-wa.
Māori culture is full of fascinating myths and legends. According to these tales, Whakarewarewa was created when the goddesses of fire, Te Hoata and and Te Pupu, traveled from Hawaiki to relieve their brothers chills creating mud pools, volcanoes and hot springs along the way.
We planned our time in the village strategically. At 10am there would be a one hour tour followed by a thirty minute cultural performance starting at 11:15 and the morning would conclude with a traditional hangi lunch at noon.
Upon entering the thermal village it’s hard not to scrunch your nose up at the offensive sulphur smell omitted from the pools. Although unpleasant, the odour is harmless and is only noticed in the city of Rotorua when there is a lot of cloud cover and the steam can’t escape.
Our guide had a great sense of humour and very easy-going personality. He, like most of the guides, lives in Whaka alongside 21 families. The families are of the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao people who have inhabited Whaka since 1325. Each home has a kitchen and bathroom but many of the residents prefer to continue the cultural practises of their ancestors by cooking and bathing communally.
Whaka contains a lot of hot spring pools. The pools are at a constant temperature of 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit). Water is diverted from these pools to the communal bathing area where washing takes place twice daily. The last person out pulls the plug, the vats are cleaned and fresh water is allowed to flow back in and cool before the next bathing time.
Because of the consistent boiling temperature, vegetables and seafood can be cooked in the pools in mere minutes. Another form of cooking is hangi. These are pits or boxes with hot stones in them. The slowest cooking food is placed on the bottom and the quickest cooking food on top. Ten chickens could be cooked from frozen in one hour (I think it was 10?!) it was definitely a lot.
We opted to try the hangi lunch which was all prepared using traditional methods. Everything was cooked perfectly and tasted delicious: beef, chicken, potato, kumara, carrots, cabbage, corn and steamed pudding for dessert. The hangi method of cooking leaves everything very tender and the sulphur doesn’t impact the taste at all.
The Maori have sacred Ancestral Meeting Houses where the entire village gathers for all kinds of occasions, celebrations and some religious ceremonies (the meeting places are not religious buildings, churches are also found in the village). The carvings outside represent men: there to protect the building. The carvings inside are meant to symbolize women. It is easy to tell the difference as the male carvings have tongues whereas the females do not.
The main pole in the middle is very significant. The point of the gable represents the head. The diagonal boards represent arms. The backbone is represented by the ridges and the rafters are the ribs.
The body, specifically the head, is very sacred to the Māori. When performing any type of dance, all body parts must be engaged. This is why you will see enlarged eyes and protruding tongues during the haka (war dance). After our tour we watched a half hour cultural performance which included singing, dancing and a haka.
If you’re ever in Rotorua, the Thermal Village is a must-see. You get to learn about the culture from a Māori guide whilst visiting their home. Nothing could be more authentic.
Wednesday February 15th – Thursday February 16th | Rotorua 🌳 – Palmerston North 🌧 | 649 Km 🚙
Apparently skydiving makes you pretty hungry so we went to BurgerFuel in Taupo for lunch. I had a Thunderbird chicken burger: chicken breast, aioli, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato and, quite possibly the best burger topping ever, pineapple. This place could definitely rival FergBurger. The burgers even came with a Doofer to hold it together while eating it. Genius! Val and I also shared an order of kumara fries which are similar to sweet potato fries but better. The main difference (I think) is that a kumara has purple skin and is a little more fluffier in texture.
From there we drove out to Huka Falls. Huka Falls are located on the Waikato river which produces approximately 15% of New Zealand’s power. The river system supplies eight hydroelectric stations and provides cooling water for two geothermal and one thermal power station. All of the waterfalls we’ve seen in New Zealand have been stunning: pristine water in beautiful shades of blue surrounded by luscious, green vegetation and Huka Falls were no exception.
Around 200,000 litres of water plunges over the face of the falls every second and creates a huge amount of white water. It almost looks like foam created in a washing machine which explains why Huka Falls are named as such. Huka means foam in Maori. I wondered if anyone would be crazy enough to whitewater raft here and we found out later that yes, some of the locals do attempt it even with kayaks.
We drove back up to Rotorua to the Redwoods Treewalk. The grove of redwoods were planted here in 1901 and the tallest tree is 72 meters high and has a diameter of 2 meters – apparently that’s enough wood to build 3.5 houses! It was a really nice walk through the trees which housed 22 different platforms to stop on to learn about the forest and admire the views.
We spent Wednesday evening at the Tews home again before departing Thursday morning to the Living Maori Village at Whakarewarewa just outside of Rotorua. It was very interesting and deserves its own post so I’ll get to that later.
The drive from Rotorua to Palmerston North was uneventful. Our boredom was interrupted only by two super cool roadside attractions. The first was a gigantic gumboot statue in Taihape. Taihape hosts an annual gumboot day (unfortunately we’ll miss it) including gumboot throwing competitions and a human dog barking competition. Maybe next time …
The second was the town of Bulls. They have a massive, black bull welcoming you to town and the rubbish buns are shaped like milk crates. I also need to be friends with whomever came up with the witty slogans in this place.
Herd of Bulls? A town like no udder.
Scrap-a-bull scrap booking store.
Constabull – police station
Forgiveabull – church
Cureabull – hospital
We didn’t spot the sign but apparently there’s one in town that points you to all of the different places. I’m sad we missed it. Here’s a pic I took from their Facebook page.
A few hours later we arrived in Palmerston North where we had booked a cabin for the night though I’m beginning to think we might need an ark at this rate …
Wednesday February 15th | Rotorua 😎 – Taupo 🎒 | … Km + 15,000 feet 🛩
She’s a good girl, loves her mama
I guess that’s why I didn’t tell her I jumped out of a plane until after I was safely on the ground. Because mums worry and I’m considerate like that …
Ian shared some delicious, warm hot cross buns with us for breakfast, Carol was kind enough to let us do a load of laundry then we hit the road to Taupo. I had planned to skydive at 12:50pm but we figured it would be a good idea to check it was all good before we ate lunch so went straight to the airport. The guy said I could jump right away, if I wanted, so twenty minutes later I was in a jumpsuit ready to go. Ready. I use that word lightly.
Joel was my tandem skydive partner master. Partner implies I did some of the work but he was the sole contributor to the jump and I was just along for the ride. I suited up and was strapped into a harness. We hopped into the plane with five other tandem divers and began our ascent to 15,000 feet. Joel immediately clipped me to him which made me feel a lot more secure knowing that, should anything bad happen, I was attached to a pro. I also had a life jacket strapped to my waist … I wouldn’t need it but the lake is pretty big so better safe than sorry.
I think I had a bit of a death grip on the handle for the first couple of minutes but relaxed pretty quickly. I asked Joel how long it would take before we hit the ground. He joked that he hoped we wouldn’t hit it but would land around five and a half minutes after jumping … Or one and a half if we didn’t pull the chute. I appreciate a witty sense of humour so lightened up after that.
Around 12,000 feet up Joel gave me an oxygen mask, pulled the very un-stylish brown hat onto my head and cinched the goggles tightly to my face. It wasn’t long before we reached altitude and all of a sudden I found myself perched on the edge of the plane ready to jump be pushed.
Holy fucking shit.
I wanna free fall, out into nothin’ // Gonna leave this, world for awhile
Sitting with my legs dangling out of the plane looking down at a large patchwork of vibrant green grass, deep blue Lake Taupo, and the miniature houses of town was definitely the scariest part. It felt like eternity but in all reality was more like five seconds. Joel catapulted us out of the bright, yellow plane and we began our freefall.
It took a few seconds for my mind to catch up to what my body was doing. I had my thumbs tucked into my harness, elbows down by my side and legs back between Joel’s knees … I was supposed to arch myself like a banana but that’s a bit of an ask when you’re trying to concentrate on not dying.
We were in freefall for approximately a minute and reached a speed of around 200km/h. All you can hear up there when you’re going that fast is noise and all you can feel is the goggles digging into your cheeks from the pressure, the cool air and a bit of dry mouth. But what you can see is spectacular: the curvature of the earth, the miniature green-wrapped silage bales that look like tiny marshmallows, the ant sized cars scurrying through town and the beautiful expanse of Lake Taupo. It was unreal.
Sixty seconds later Joel pulled the cord and I felt a small upward jolt as our chute released. The next few minutes was my favourite part. We soared through the air so effortlessly: turning here and gliding there like a giant bird. The view was phenomenal. Joel loosened up my harness so I could sit a little more comfortably and enjoy the descent back to earth. This was definitely my favourite part.
The landing was a lot smoother than I anticipated. Basically I had to lift my legs up and we landed on our butts. I was unhooked and the jump was over.
Since this was a bucket list item of mine I decided to purchase the selfie video and photos that were all taken from a Go-Pro attached to Joels wrist. Sky diving isn’t cheap but it was so worth it. It was a great adrenaline rush, a little scary but fun as hell. I would highly recommend you add it to your list of must-dos and if you’re in Taupo definitely go with Taupo Tandem Skydiving. The guys there are a lot of fun and absolute pros.